The Instagram logo

Banish the winter blues

Top tips for combating Seasonal Affective Disorder

With less sunlight and longer, darker days, it’s no surprise that many of us suffer with the winter blues, commonly known as Seasonal Affective Disorder.

“Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of low mood disorder that comes and goes in a seasonal pattern,” explains Dr Rupy Aujla, NHS doctor, podcaster and author who has partnered with meal kit service Green Chef ( “Symptoms include low mood, lack of interest in normal everyday activities, despair, guilt, difficulty concentrating and lethargy.”

Dr Rupy adds: “People produce less vitamin D in the winter months because of the lack of exposure to adequate natural light, and this also happens to be when many people suffer with low mood or seasonal affective disorder (SAD). There is a correlation.”

It seems that our brains also undergo chemical changes during the wintertime, due to the lack of sunlight, as Dr Jenny Barnett (PhD), a neuroscientist and the Chief Scientific Officer of leading brain health platform Five Lives, explains. “Your brain produces a hormone called melatonin in response to darkness to put you in the mood for sleep,” she says. “It is thought that some people with SAD produce too much melatonin as the days become shorter in winter, causing them to feel perpetually sluggish and apathetic. With a drop in levels of natural sunlight and our general routines turned upside down, our bodies end up producing less of a mood-regulating chemical called serotonin.

When serotonin levels are low, our brain metabolises what it does have faster, which leads to an imbalance of chemicals within the brain that can make it hard to regulate our emotions. This leads to higher levels of anxiety and feelings of depression, which can drastically affect those with brain or mood-related conditions.”

Natural ways to banish the symptoms of SAD

Load up on vitamin D

“It’s particularly hard to get enough vitamin D – which we produce through exposure to light, and is linked to cognitive function – during the winter,” says Dr Jenny Barnett. “You could consider supplementing your diet to help maintain levels: the UK government recommends taking 10 micrograms of vitamin D daily, especially during the winter months. And while you’re at it, make sure you’re getting plenty of brain-healthy nutrients from your diet too: vitamin B12 can be found in foods such as meat, fish, cheese and eggs, so for those following a vegan diet, speak to your GP about a supplement. And to make sure you get enough folate, fill your plate with green leafy vegetables, broccoli, beans and pulses, and avocados.”

Spend more time outside

“Getting outside in natural light, even without the sun, will help with symptoms of SAD,” says Fenella Hemus, a certified hypnotherapist and mindset coach ( “Being in nature as often as possible, especially the woods, mountains or by the sea, will rebalance our body with negative ions. This counteracts the excess positive ions we absorb from all the electronics, which can increase irritability and lethargy and lower mood. Moreover, the air is purer, contains fewer airborne viruses and the fresh air helps us to sleep too.”

Get your heart pumping

“There is a very strong link between cardiovascular health and brain health, and people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of brain disorders such as stroke, dementia and depression,” says Dr Jenny Barnett. “Physical exercise like a morning run can also help you combat winter-related brain fog, by creating short-term improvements in cognitive function, and providing long-term brain health benefits. Plus, it gets you outside early in the morning, when seeing daylight is especially beneficial. Aim for a minimum of 15 minutes of vigorous activity three times a week – this could be a morning jog or run, a bike ride, swimming or even a dance session.”

Try some light therapy

“Environmental factors, especially light, impact our circadian rhythms,” says Kate Baker, Light and Wellness advisor, at smart lighting expert 4lite. “Our body clock develops over a lifetime, using the colour of the light around us to tell the difference between daytime and evening. Naturally we should start to wake with sunrise and feel at our most alert a few hours after waking, then start to feel sleepy after around 15 hours, when the light starts to fade. Factors such as short days in the wintertime and lack of access to natural light can play havoc with our body’s natural rhythms, leading to disordered feelings of sleepiness and wakefulness and in the extreme cases, SAD.” Smart lighting may help to regulate your body clock. It can be set to brighten and dim over the course of the day as well as change colour to mimic natural daylight or warmer yellow tones at night.

Use the power of visualisation

“Visualisation is another effective way to improve mood and mindset,” says Fenella Hemus. “The mind can’t tell the difference between reality and something strongly imagined. For years athletes have successfully used visual rehearsal to improve performance and we can too. Creating and practising a visualisation focusing on feeling happier and achieving the positive things we want, will put us in a better frame of mind and it will activate something called the Reticular Activating System, which causes our brain to start looking for those very things we’ve imagined.”

Read articles from our latest issue here...